A definitive guide for punctuation

A sentence without punctuation is merely a group of words, because without punctuation a sentence will not make much sense. And use of incorrect punctuation or punctuation in the wrong place can change the meaning of the sentence completely. Therefore, it is important to use correct punctuation marks. Punctuation allows us to organize our thoughts in the correct manner and make our sentences understandable to others.

The Standard English punctuation marks consist of: comma, apostrophe, quotation, question, brackets, braces, exclamation, parentheses, dash, ellipsis, hyphen, colon, semicolon, and period.

Here is the explanation of some punctuation marks:

Comma (,)

Commas are meant to be used to join two independent clauses with a conjunction. Commas are also used to clarify the sentence and to separate independent and dependent clauses.

Examples:

  • I loved the movie, and I loved the music.
  • Even though the auditorium was packed completely, the audience remained silent.
  • I had milk, toast, and apple pie.

Commas are also used to note an interjection in a sentence.

Examples:

  • The teacher said that the student was absent.
  • The teacher, said the student was absent.
  • The teacher is speaking in the first sentence. The student is speaking in the second.

Apostrophe (')

Apostrophes are used to show or mark possession and contractions. Also, they are used to denote a specific quotation or sentence quoted by somebody.

Examples:

  • It is my daughter's cup that I bought for her
  • "Cleeta said, 'If you will not stop making noise I'll not teach.'"

Quotation (" ")

Quotation marks are used for a statement that is being said by somebody or for a statement that is being directly copied from another work.

Examples:

  • Joy said, "Is this her party dress?"
  • Virender Sehwag Claims, "He Predicted Sourav Ganguly Becoming BCCI President in 2007."

Question (?)

Question marks are used to note interrogative sentences. Whenever a question is asked it should end with a question mark.

Example:

  • Where are you going?
  • When will you leave for the USA?

Exclamation (!)

Exclamation mark is used to note exclamatory sentences. it is used in place of a full stop (period) after a word, phrase or sentence that has a strong appeal, a warning, a command, or an expression of surprise, enthusiasm, pain, emotion, or disgust.

Example:

  • "Ouch!"
  • "Wow, what a scenery!"

Hyphen (-)

Hyphens are used for pairing compound words.

Example:

  • One-of-its-kind
  • Throw-away
  • Merry-go-round
  • User-friendly

Dash (-)

Dashes are generally used to denote a completely different line of thought or action within a thought. Dashes are of two types viz., an "en" dash and an "em" dash. "En" dashes essentially are the same as hyphens, corresponding the width of a letter N, however filling a different purpose. Whereas, "Em" dashes are longer, corresponding the width of a letter M.

Example:

  • "Em" Dash - "Her promises are worth nothing - absolutely nothing!"
  • "En" Dash - Indo-American relations.

Parenthesis (), Brackets [], Braces {}

Parenthesis is used when some non-essential information has to be shared, something that could even be skipped without changing the meaning of a sentence. Whereas, brackets are mostly used in academic writing within a quotation where the writer tries to omit or explain something. In either case, bracket is placed within the quote.

Braces however are used very rarely only in case when one has to make a list within a list.

Examples:

  • Edward Brook (last year's second runner up) is expected to win this year's live show.
  • Rohit Sharma claims, "He [the Captain of Team India] is a perfect example of a great cricketer. "
  • Before planning my vacation I need to do all the bookings {Air tickets, Hotel, and Local Travel}, pack my bag and complete my office work.

Ellipsis (...)

Ellipsis is used to denote the omission of a word or words. However, if the omission includes the end of a sentence it will have four dots (....) instead of three.

Example:

  • "Popular heart remedy negated ... Treating the bloodstream with chelation therapy failed to relieve heart disease."

Colon (: )

The colon is most commonly used to separate two main clauses, in which the first one is an introduction to the second. But the clause that follows the colon mark should be able to stand on its own. Only complete sentences come before the colon.

Example:

  • The teacher asked me three questions: what is your name, what do you want to become, where you live.

Semicolon (;)

A semicolon is used to join two related main clauses.

Example:

  • This was the second time she had been in London; the places - the faces - all seemed strangely familiar.

Besides, a semicolon is used to include a conjunctive adverb such as: however, nevertheless, moreover, furthermore, consequently, or thus. However, conjunctive adverbs can also be used with a comma.

Example:

  • Josh left a mess at his desk after he left work; consequently, Rhea had to clean it up.

Last but not least, semicolons are also used to show the main divisions in a list of longer items.

Example:

  • The following issues were raised at yesterday's PTM: why kids skip their lunches; what should be done about smoking behind the bicycle shed; how we should address the issue of low attendance in the classes; and last but not least, the problem of too much workload.

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